Ambulance services 'significantly impacted' by drug crisis in Northern Ireland

Instances of drug overdose are having "a significant impact" on ambulance services in Northern Ireland, a senior paramedic has told UTV.

Dr Nigel Ruddell from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said cases of patients being overcome by the effects of overdoses have "more than doubled" between 2020 and 2021.

He made the comments during a UTV news special which examined the scale of the drug crisis in Northern Ireland.

"Every night in Belfast we will see a couple of incidents of patients being overcome by the effect of these overdoses," said Dr Ruddell.

The work the ambulance service does in providing medical aid has been assisted by a number of voluntary organisations, something the paramedic says NIAS is "hugely thankful for".

"Minutes matter in these cases," he said.

"These patients will die unless they get the antidote or first aid, and anybody that can provide that, we really value their input."

While responding to call-outs is paramount, Dr Ruddell explained that earlier steps must also be considered to tackle to issue.

Dr Ruddell said 'minutes matter' in instances of drug overdose

"The answer to this is not just responding at the time of an incident, but primary intervention," he said.

"We don't make any judgment when we get any of these calls - we are there to help in a time of need, but it is making a significant impact on services at present.

"We need to look at all the social factors that lead to someone ending up in this position," he added.

Meanwhile Nicola McCrudden from Homeless Connect told UTV there is a need "to see proper funding" to tackle the issue of drug abuse and addiction.

"We need to see more joined up resources in terms of the statutory sector," she said.

"We need political leadership, we need those right policy decisions being made that will make a difference on the ground and help to save lives and help to prevent homelessness.

"It would make a massive different (to have an executive)," she added.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is not currently operating due to political impasse over the protocol - a Brexit trade deal which was negotiated between the UK and EU.

Ms McCrudden said: "We need to see a government in place that can make those changes, that can happen almost immediately."

The Public Health Agency has a range of services offering support for addiction. To find a service near you visit health crisis helpline Lifeline can be contacted on 0808 808 8000.

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